Until the End of the World

Bono Paris

This is a photograph of Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, performing in Paris on December 7, 2015. U2 was originally scheduled to perform in Paris in November, with the concert to be broadcast on HBO, but the band had to postpone due to the terrorist attacks in Paris, which included an attack on a rock concert featuring the California band The Eagles of Death Metal.

The rescheduled concert was broadcast on HBO the evening of December 7th and I watched it and recorded it for repeat viewing. Of course, the terrorist attacks upped the ante for the rescheduled show and created, at least for me, an expectation that it would be in some way more meaningful, especially given the band’s tendency to wade into political matters. So I was anticipating a great performance, but was also a bit cynical about the prospect of these wealthy rock stars getting paid a ton of money to play a show and thinking they could somehow convey something more than the pleasant buzz one might associate with popular musical performances.

The show started out quite serious, with a mix of new and old material and plenty of seemingly heartfelt pronouncements, such as we are all Parisians tonight. A standout was the U2 standard Sunday Bloody Sunday, which evokes the period of Irish troubles deriving from religious and political conflict between north and south. The band had the good sense to have the members line up at the front of the stage, with the drummer playing a shoulder-hung drum like in a marching band. The visual was like something out of Les Miserable; the revolutionaries pushed up against the barricades.

Then things became even more serious, with Bono explaining the genesis of the material on the band’s new album and drawing a loose connection between experiences the members had growing up during the troubles and current events. This part of the show ended with Bono imploring a higher power to bring comfort. At this point I was thinking that the show was doomed to linger in a tone of sadness and maudlin pomposity. But then a curious thing happened. A full on rock concert broke through the gloom.

The band’s guitarist, known as The Edge, launched into one of my favorite U2 songs, Until the End of the World. The opening lyrics are as follows:

Haven’t seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world

The implicit message was that despite all that had happened, it wasn’t (isn’t) the end of the world. During the guitar break, The Edge was performing behind a scrim, onto which Bono was projected larger than life, drinking water from a bottle and seeming to spray it out of his mouth onto The Edge. He says, “I’m sorry, Edge.” Then he says, “No, I’m not sorry.” A moment of humor that pierced the sanctimony. The song continued, until the final verse, which goes:

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You…you said you’d wait
’til the end of the world

That line: I reached out for the one I tried to destroy. It was a transcendent moment; at once a battle call and a moment of tenderness.

I’ve been thinking for a couple days now whether this concert was important. It occurs to me that the terrorists thought it was important to kill a lot of people at another concert, and not because they were pissed off that the band made money off it. Maybe that’s because they realize that music does have meaning beyond the business side of things. On that note, U2 struck a blow for the good.

Road Trip, Part 3

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This is a cliff in southern Alberta, Canada that is called the Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump. It is a bit off the main highway and I never would have thought of going there but for the nice lady at the visitors center in Cardston, Alberta. We had stopped there to ask about roadside attractions and a fellow traveler and her husband recommended it. By the way, Cardston has it’s own attraction near the visitors center called the Remington Carriage Museum that houses a fine collection of meticulously restored horse drawn conveyances of every size and description. It’s worth a stop if you’re driving through. But the buffalo jump is on a whole other level, seeing as how it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The native people (or what the Canadians refer to as aboriginals) who inhabited the area before the arrival of Europeans used the cliff to harvest buffalo as an alternative to hunting them. There is a great museum built into the side of the cliff and your visit starts with a short film that explains how they did it. It turns out that buffalo have poor eyesight, which, combined with their tendency to protect the youngest of the herd and to stampede when faced with a perceived threat, allowed the aboriginals to trick the herd into running over the cliff.

The methods used by the aboriginals were precise and involved a fair amount of danger to the participants due to the necessary proximity to the stampeding herd. The preparation started with the construction of lanes made of rocks and plants to form a visual barrier that would guide the herd toward the cliff when the stampede began. The tribe would stand outside of the lanes to reinforce the barrier by making noise. Two braves would dress in animal skins; one disguised as a calf and one as a wolf. The “calf” would stray from the herd in the direction of the cliff while the “wolf” would approach from the other direction. The herd would move toward the calf as a protective measure and stampede when frightened by the wolf approaching from behind. This worked because buffalo have poor eyesight, but also because the braves disguised their scent.

Once the stampede began the brave dressed as a calf would jump outside the lane to safety, but as you can imagine the timing wasn’t always perfect and a brave would get trampled to death on occasion. But that’s not how the place got its name. The name comes from a story of a particular brave who waited at the base of the cliff during one of the harvests, thinking that he could view the event in safety behind the waterfall of buffalo. But as the animals piled up at the bottom he was crushed and later found with his head smashed in.

The museum is dedicated to the pre-European culture of the aboriginals who inhabited the region, which existed for thousands of years. It is the one museum I’ve attended with my child that held her attention longer than it held mine. Learning occurred. For me, the most profound insight is that the aboriginal culture was based entirely on the buffalo. Almost everything used by the people was made out of buffalo, including clothing, housing, weapons, ornaments, you name it. Of course, the buffalo also provided the primary source of food. Once the herds of buffalo disappeared after the arrival of the Europeans, the culture of the aboriginals was destroyed. The saddest part of the story is that most of the buffalo killed by Europeans were killed for sport and hides. Most of the buffalo was wasted, in direct contradiction to the aboriginal way.

I recommend visiting Head Smashed-In if you happen to be in Alberta. It’s well worth leaving the main highway.

Speaking of stampedes, our next stop is the greatest rodeo on earth, the Calgary Stampede.

 

Bullet the Blue Sky

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The Irish Rock Band U2 was supposed to play in Paris tonight, with the show to be broadcast on HBO. Instead, the show was postponed by the band “until an appropriate time” due to the terrorist attacks that hit Paris on Friday night. I wonder if the terrorists were thinking about the fact that it was the 13th.

I was reminded of the time that my wife Lisa and I saw U2 in Paris at the Parc de Princes. We were on our honeymoon and it just so happened that U2 was playing in Paris during that part of our European itinerary. We bought tickets from a scalper outside the stadium. That particular show was played on the same date of Princess Diana’s funeral; she had died in the car accident in Paris when Lisa and I were in Nice. It was a memorable show, but two memories in particular stand out: U2 playing the song “One” in honor of Diana, with a royal portrait of her projected on the screen behind the stage; and, U2 playing “Bullet the Blue Sky.”

I thought about Bullet the Blue Sky when I heard that U2 had postponed their Paris concert because of the terrorist attacks. The song is a critique of violence and conflict and when performed live it can come across as political theater. When I saw U2 play it in Paris, they extended the out-tro for several minutes while the lead singer, Bono, performed an exquisite pantomime of a man walking a highwire while holding an umbrella over his head as if for balance. The umbrella he was holding had a colorful red, white, and blue American flag motif. Bono’s theatrical interlude came across clearly to me as a metaphor of Europe as the daredevil, protected by the security umbrella provided by the United States. I could hear many of the audience members around me muttering in French, “c’est vrai, c’est vrai.” (it’s true, it’s true).

A lot has happened since then and I’m not writing this to grind any particular political axe. One could say that we are less secure due to American adventurism in foreign affairs, or because we’ve chosen to “lead from behind.” I think most would agree, though, that for whatever reason, the security umbrella is looking a bit frayed these days. U2 reacted to the terrorist attacks on Paris with “shock and horror.” Yeah, me too. For people who’ve visited Paris, it’s hard to imagine something like this happening. Hard, and sad in a way that rips at your heart. Paris evokes an ethereal innocence. To see that shattered is heartbreaking.

Maybe it was inevitable that the security umbrella wouldn’t last forever. But it will certainly be replaced by something better, or worse. I get the feeling we’re going to find out real soon.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the French and all the others affected by this terrible situation.

The Road Trip, 2

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I took this photo in Glacier National Park, Montana. This is Lake Josephine, in the area of the park called Many Glacier. We were in the park July 9 & 10. The timing was fortuitous because a fire required closure of some areas shortly after we left, including part of Going to the Sun Road. As is so often the case, this photo doesn’t really capture the beauty. My daughter and I agreed that Glacier National Park was a highlight of the trip.

We didn’t have reservations for lodging in the park itself, so instead we stayed nearby in an old school hotel called the Glacier Park Lodge, which opened in 1913. The lodge was constructed by the Great Northern Railroad as part of an effort to bring tourists to the park by train. The rail line still runs right by the hotel. Here’s a photo I took of the lobby.

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Those giant columns that look like tree trunks…are tree trunks. Most of the structural supports are timbers of varying sizes. When we checked into the hotel there were a few details that went unmentioned. For example, there are no televisions in the rooms. Also, no phones. There is wi-fi, but the signal is weak, so if you want to use it you need to go to the public areas. This lack of technology creates a time warp effect and the guests resort to Victorian entertainments like board games, cards, and jigsaw puzzles that are scattered throughout the public areas. Also, many of the guests sit in the public areas and read, or admire the view from the back veranda. For the typical guest who has never been deprived of tech it is jarring at first, but I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to this slower paced environment. It was relaxing and eventually quite charming.

Oh, did I mention that it was Native American week? There was a large pow-wow scheduled in a nearby town, and since the park and the hotel are located on the Blackfoot reservation, no alcohol was served at the hotels and restaurants. So, if you were thinking, well, there’s no TV or internet so I’ll just belly up to the bar and soothe my  tech withdrawal, think again. The old-timey environment and lack of booze combined to make it seem like you might be staying at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. You’ll recall that Jack Nicholson’s character fell off the wagon chatting it up with the ghost bartender in the hotel lounge. We only stayed at the lodge one night. Then it was on to Canada.

By the way, my apologies for the long absence of posts. I had some things going on that required my full attention for awhile.

Concert Review: Aerosmith

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The first time I saw Aerosmith in concert was on July 23, 1978 at the Oakland Coliseum. They headlined a summer music festival known as Day on the Green, put on by legendary entertainment promoter Bill Graham. The other acts on the bill were, in descending order, Foreigner, Pat Travers, Van Halen, and AC/DC. That’s right: AC/DC opened the show. That’s because they were fairly unknown in the United States at that time. Don’t believe me? Here’s the poster.

Day on the Green 1978

I can still remember Angus Young running onto the stage in a bumble bee schoolboy uniform. As AC/DC rolled through their set the crowd had a collective, dawning realization that we were seeing something great for the first time. That set the stage for the next act, Van Halen. My best friend had just bought the first Van Halen album a few weeks before the concert, but most of the crowd was uninitiated. They came out and played Running With the Devil, then Eddie Van Halen launched into Eruption. It was like a nuclear bomb went off.

I mention this because Aerosmith was a complete disappointment that day. During that period the band was deep into hard drugs and their performance really suffered from it. When juxtaposed against seeing AC/DC and Van Halen for the first time, it made Aerosmith seem like a washed up mess.

Despite that disappointing first experience, I saw Aerosmith seven or eight times over the years, with mixed results. So it was with a bit of skepticism that I decided to start the road trip with an Aerosmith concert at Harvey’s amphitheater on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, July 3, 2015. There was a completely forgettable opening act. No, seriously. I can’t even remember their name, and it’s not even worth looking up.

So the opening band sucked. The good news is that thirty-seven years after seeing Aerosmith for the first time, I finally saw the show of my dreams. It’s not unusual for a band to keep it’s form as the members age. The Eagles come to mind in that regard. This was something different. Aerosmith was better than ever. And not just a little bit better. They completely blew the doors off every other Aerosmith show I’d seen, in person or otherwise.

The first surprise came with the opening song, Let the Music Do the Talking. If someone had asked me to bet a million dollars that they wouldn’t play that song, much less open with it, I would have taken the bet. It’s from the Night in the Ruts album, released in 1979 when the band was at a low point. I remember reading an article at that time and the band’s singer, Steve Tyler, was quoted as saying that even if the album didn’t sell it would someday be considered a classic. You have to give him credit for sticking to his guns.

There were many highlights, but for me the best part was when they played Last Child, the second cut from the Rocks album. That song encapsulates everything I love about Aerosmith: the heavy blues funk, bordering on metal; the clever, southern-fried lyrics; Tyler’s soulful, high pitched vocals; the dual guitar attack of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford on the solo break; the thundering bass and percussion of Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer; all of it synthesized into a potent, intoxicating brew that makes you want to throw your fist in the air and bob your head.

Perhaps the most impressive thing, overall, was that Steven Tyler hit every single note, not just with clarity and assurance, but with a playful, over-the-top expressiveness that you only get from the truly great vocalists. And not just on Last Child, but on every number, especially the explosive segue out of the rhythm breakdown on Draw the Line. At the end of the show, Tyler did a victory lap around the stage, then looked out at the audience and said, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” The man wasn’t lying.

So maybe you’re like me and are skeptical of seeing this band live, thinking that maybe their best days are behind them. I can tell you that the opposite may be true. If the show I saw is any indication, this is the best they’ve ever been and may ever get. See them if you have the chance. You won’t be disappointed.

Set List:

Let the Music Do the Talking
Love in an Elevator
Cryin’
Jaded
Last Child
Livin’ on the Edge
Toys in the Attic
Drum Solo
Rag Doll
Stop Messin’ Around
(Fleetwood Mac cover)
Mama Kin
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing
Draw the Line
No More No More
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)
Walk This Way
Encore:
Dream On
(snippet of “Home Tonight” as intro)
Sweet Emotion

The Road Trip

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This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago on Interstate 395 in eastern Oregon. As you can see, you won’t have many fellow travelers on this particular road. It’s a good route if you like to drive fast and you’re driving from California to Alberta in Canada.

It’s also a good route if you’re driving with your kid(s) and you want to use the drive time to talk with them, because there’s no cell phone coverage at all.  No irritating data to distract them. It’s amazing how much you can catch up when their electronics are out of the way. As a single parent I recommend road trips as a way to reconnect.

It rained just as the sun was setting, so we stopped the car and caught some good moments, like this one, which I took with the panorama functionality on my IPhone. If you look carefully at the extreme right of the photo you can see the front end of my car, which faithfully executed a 5K (that’s five thousand miles) without any problems. It’s an Inifiniti FX50S, which is somewhat rare. I’ve only seen two others since I bought it in 2012.

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The main destination of the trip was Calgary, but there were many stops along the way. Why Calgary? Because there’s a very large rodeo there called The Stampede. I have a fond memory of attending the Calgary Stampede on a road trip with my dad when I was about my daughter’s age and I wanted to pass that memory along.

I’ll be blogging about the road trip for the next few weeks, along with some other cool stuff. I’ve been on radio silence for the past few months, for reasons I won’t go into. The good news is that now I have a lot of things to write about. Thanks for reading.

Don’t Talk About This, Talk About That

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I never submit my tax return until the last day, unless I’m getting a refund, which is not the case this year. It’s a bummer having to shell out extra money at tax time, so instead of writing about that, I’m going to write about my favorite poet, T. S. Eliot, whose epic poem The Wasteland is often quoted around the tax deadline. It’s just the first line of the poem: April is the cruelest month.

Here’s the first four lines of the poem to provide a little context.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain

Eliot wrote notes for the poem at the request of the publisher, but later disavowed them as bogus, so it’s not clear what the poem refers to. When I first read it I thought it was about Europe emerging from the dark winter of world war. Here’s one of my favorite lines:

There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust

This seems to refer to the dawn of nuclear weapons, but the poem was written in 1922. Come in under the shadow of this red rock. Gives me chills.

David Bowie is reported to have said that when fans would meet him they’d often quote his lyrics and offer an explanation of their meaning. He would always listen to the explanation and say “Yes, that’s it exactly,” even if he didn’t have that explanation in mind when he wrote the lyrics. He said he did that  because it’s fun for people to project their own meaning into art and by so doing make it more meaningful for them.

T. S. Eliot is probably best known for his series of poems about cats, which served as inspiration for the musical play, “Cats.” The cool thing about the cat poems is you can match your cat to one of them. My cat’s name is Rocky and I’ve matched him with the poem Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town. Here’s an excerpt.

Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones–
In fact he’s remarkably fat.
He doesn’t haunt pubs–he has eight or nine clubs,
For he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!
He’s the cat we all greet as he walks down the street
In his coat of fastidious black:
No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers
Or such an impeccable back.

Rocky’s old now, but when he was younger he weighed about twenty pounds. Now he’s down below ten pounds, but still hanging in there. Speaking of cats…

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There’s a business near where I work called RAWR. I’ve walked by it a few times but never stopped to figure out what it was. At first I thought it was a restaurant, but then noticed there are no tables; just a service counter and a cold box with neatly aligned cylindrical containers, so I thought maybe it was a grab and go lunch place.

One day I decided to end the mystery and as I went inside I noticed that the door had the phrase “Eat Like A Lion” stenciled on it. The nice lady at the counter explained that RAWR sells cat food. RAWR is a boutique cat food outlet. Seriously. According to the nice lady at the counter they source chickens and fish locally and use the entire animal. You buy the food frozen and let it defrost before feeding it to ditty fuzz. I was going to buy some, but my cat is on a prescription diet.

Poor Rocky. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Baseball 2015

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It’s a little hard to see in the twilight, but that’s a baseball on the seal’s nose. The statue is in the plaza at the rear of AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play. I went there last week to see a pre-season game featuring my hometown team, the Oakland Athletics, who won handily. It was pre-season so it’s meaningless, except that the Giants are the reigning world champions, so it might say something about the A’s prospects for the regular season.

Then on Monday I went to opening night at the Oakland Coliseum. People complain about the Coliseum  for many reasons. For one thing, the Oakland Raiders also use it for football. But mostly they complain because it’s an old facility that lacks the glamour of AT&T Park, which is widely considered to be one of the premier facilities in the majors. Here are dueling photos from the seats at both parks.

Here’s AT&T. If the photo was enlarged you could see the splash counter, which shows the number of times players have hit a home run out of the park and into San Francisco Bay, or what the locals call McCovey Cove.

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Here’s the Coliseum. It’s earlier in the evening, so it’s not an apples-to-apples since you can see the beautiful sunset.

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OK. Let’s just acknowledge that the Giants have a nicer house. In defense of the Coliseum, it is a serviceable facility that has its charms. For example, true A’s fans know what is meant by the phrase “sun hit.” You see, during day games there is a fair probability that an outfielder on the opposing team will lose a lazy fly ball in the sun. During mid-season the sun goes down behind home plate, so the hapless opposing outfielder, who is not used to playing at the Coliseum, will have to battle the sun to try and catch a fly ball. I’ve seen a lot of sun hits.

Another advantage of the Coliseum is that it is in Oakland, which means that the ambient temperature at game time will be much more comfortable than at AT&T. Here’s a tip: if you go to a night game at AT&T, dress warmly; wear layers. It doesn’t matter the time of year, or what the daytime temperature is. Once I went to a night game at AT&T in the middle of July when the daytime temperature was in the mid-80s. I arrived at the game dressed in shorts and a polo shirt. In the third inning I had to go the team store to buy something; anything, to keep warm. $100 later I was swaddled in Giants gear (oh the humiliation) and still freezing.

But the best thing about the Coliseum is that it embodies the spirit of the team that plays there. It resides next to railroad tracks in what used to be an industrial corridor. It is the blue-collar counterpoint to everything that goes on at AT&T, with its damnable wine and crab cake concessions and clam chowder sourdough bread bowls. At the Coliseum no self-respecting A’s fan would be caught dead eating a crab cake while sipping on a fine Chardonnay. No, we prefer the very large corn dogs that are called “Actual Size.” I’m not a Giants hater, even though they have an irritating tendency to win championships when their regular season play suggests they should collapse in the playoffs.

Man, I love baseball. I love this time of year, when everything is fresh and new and you don’t have to worry about the playoffs because everyone has a shot.

Let’s Go Oakland!

Spring Cleaning

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It started with a visit to the tax preparer. I was asked to present certain documents that I thought I had received and knew I had received, but that I’d misplaced, being the single parent that I am. So I went home and searched every nook and cranny. I never found said documents and concluded that I had to embark on an effort to clean up my home office.

Nothing nefarious. It’s just that when you’re hit with the death of your spouse due to illness, there’s a natural tendency to avoid looking at old records because you’re reminded of your married life, which is traumatic; if you loved the person involved at the time of their death, which was the case with me.

I kept stumbling upon stuff that triggered memories. I won’t go into that here.

I’ve spent the last few weeks spending all my free time cleaning out my office and getting rid of dated material. All this paper needed to be shredded; or so I thought; to keep it private; to prevent identity theft; it’s so hard to recognize the line on something like that; it keeps evolving. Anyway, I shredded a lot of stuff. I’ve spent most of my free time doing that the last few weeks, which is why I haven’t posted on this blog.

I think this has larger applications to the population of people who are aged. We may, someday, be visited by some regulatory authority that says we’re out of compliance. I hope to be one of the evaluators rather than the subject under evaluation.

Now I’m blogging about it and wondering if that’s the best way to go. Oh well. I did it to clear out my home office so I wouldn’t feel like a hoarder.

You need to move on from things, and I felt I needed to seal the silver mine as regards the records related to my spouse; who is deceased through no fault of mine, and who I miss terribly every day.

I love you Lisa, if you can hear me. I’ve kept the good stuff.

I’m moving on now.

Love,

Mike

A Strange Kind of Pride

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I work in downtown Oakland, California and I took this photo a couple of blocks from my office. This is graffiti painted on the wall of a construction site. It’s funny how the graffiti depicts a rat doing the deed. Here’s another photo farther down the same wall.

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If you don’t live in Oakland you may well look at the graffiti in a very negative light and think that it reflects poorly on the city. Here’s another photo I took about a block away (in fact all of the photos I’m posting were taken in a three block area of downtown).

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So, it’s not cool to deface a storefront like this, even though it’s empty and undergoing renovation inside, as indicated by butcher paper on the inside of the windows. This particular graffiti has been there about two weeks and there has been no attempt to clean it up, which I put down to a combination of the likelihood that the people who lease the building are probably waiting until the interior renovation is done, and a sense of futility in the meantime. I’m sure they’ll clean it up before the new business opens at that location. There’s a separate question, though, as to whether it should be removed. You’ll see why in a bit. Obviously, removal is up to the property owners and the business leasing it.

If it’s not cool to deface a storefront, what about a non-street facing wall next to a parking lot?

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I think this graffiti is of a quality that it adds to the urban landscape. I have no idea whether the property owners gave permission for this, but I could imagine a business or building owner doing that. If you still haven’t migrated at all toward the notion that graffiti is ever a good thing, what about this?

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Again, I have no idea if this was approved by the building owner and/or the business. I do consider it a positive addition to the urban landscape. It’s cool to walk around this part of Oakland and be confronted by the imagination of these people, who I suspect are locals. Why do I think that?IMG_2451

This doesn’t look like the other graffiti and I doubt this was an unauthorized job. It does show that graffiti has gained a grudging acceptance in this part of town. It’s achieved critical mass, as exemplified by this…

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…or this.

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There are smaller works, like this…

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Again, I don’t know in any given instance which of these works were approved. I just know that I enjoy them when I’m walking around at lunch. One more:

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You’ll notice the “Love Oakland” on the left hand side of the frame. It seems that an unlikely confluence of societal forces are creating an unconventional art district in the heart of downtown Oakland. This is the type of thing that is unlikely as an official civic project, which makes it all the more special. It makes me proud of the region where I live.

I love Oakland.

Full disclosure: I live next door in Alameda, but I lived in Oakland for many, many years, and work there currently.